Help Your Youth Leaders Prevent Bullying at Recess

The PTA’s Connect for Respect initiative recommends pulling together a team of youth leaders to address bullying. For National Bullying Prevention Month, Playworks is happy to share easy strategies that even the youngest leaders can use.

Bullying and conflicts often start on the playground. Playworks, a national nonprofit, helps schools improve recess to impact school climate. Here are 5 strategies we’ve found effective for youth leaders in upper elementary school.

1.   Become a team.

In Playworks’ youth leadership programs, small groups of older students serve as recess monitors for younger students and peers. To set the tone at recess, youth leaders need to trust each other and feel like a team. Consider a weekly meeting to play icebreaker games, learn about bullying and respect, and debrief playground experiences.

2.   Model positive language.

When older students give lots of high fives and use language like “Good job, nice try!” instead of “You’re out!”, younger kids will start to do the same. Elementary-aged children are still learning that words can hurt. Making positive language the norm can help minimize hurt feelings, frustration, and miscommunication.

3.   Solve conflicts with rock-paper-scissors.

Sometimes, bullying behavior can be hard to distinguish from still-developing conflict management skills. To address the latter, students can use rock-paper-scissors to solve small disputes. Youth leaders can remind students to “rock it out” on the playground. They can also help by letting adults know when to step in.

4.   Lead inclusive games.

As children develop social awareness and form friend groups, they may start to exclude peers. Adults can set the expectation that recess games should be open to everyone. Youth leaders can lead games and invite all students to join. They can also take responsibility for being on the lookout for students who may feel left out and inviting those children to play.

5.   Reinforce game rules.

To create an inclusive environment, all students need to know how to play common games. This means adults should review the rules, pay attention to different learning styles, and check for understanding—just like in the classroom.

Once students are on the same page, youth leaders can monitor games and make sure other students know how to play. Clear expectations make a big difference, especially for children working on social interaction. One Playworks parent shared,

“My 5-year-old twins were diagnosed with autism 3 years ago. If I had to choose one program out of the handful that help with social interaction, it would be Playworks. Playworks helps schools set parameters for all children to help them understand what is OK and what is not. I think all kids need that, but kids with special needs especially need that. Playworks immerses our twins into their community. Other children know them and are used to working with them.”

Assessing Recess Success

The PTA’s Connect for Respect initiative also recommends assessing your school’s safety and social environment. Playworks’ new Recess Checkup can help you do that on the playground. This short quiz helps you assess safety, engagement, and empowerment at recess and offers strategies for improving each.

Playworks supports schools around the country. Interested in bringing Playworks’ programming or professional development to your school? Get in touch here.

Meg Duff is the Marketing Manager at Playworks. 

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